After an intolerable international break – what already seems like the 89th this season – we can finally look forward to the Premier League returning, as Arsenal take on Stoke City at The Emirates.
Before the international hiatus, we had recovered a little from a hellish period that saw us slump out of contention for any sort of respectable league placing, but our handsome wins over AC Milan and a professional victory over Watford has seen at least an improvement.
We’ve got plenty of work to do though.
The Europa League is only at the Quarter-Final stage and we’re still eight points behind fifth place, so every game is pretty much win or bust at this stage. Good thing we’re playing Stoke City then, right?
Before we panic and hark back to the many nightmares we’ve had against the Potters, there is a contrast to this match-up that has a derby feel of sorts. When we travel to Stoke, this is when the nightmares begin and we have a truly sketchy record against them at their home ground.
When it comes to welcoming them at our ground though? They’ve never won at our place in the Premier League era. In fact, you have to go back to 1981 to find a Stoke win at our ground.
Can we make it continue though? We need to, and we have the chance to nudge Paul Lambert’s side towards the exit door a little more.
In terms of our team, Wenger revealed that Alexandre Lacazette should be fit for consideration for the game, but the length of his layoff should mean a probable substitute appearance for the French striker. Lacazette will be keen for minutes too, with the World Cup looming.
Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey were doubts too, but both have been passed for fitness according to our manager. Chambers may slot in to preserve Koscielny for the CSKA game on Thursday. Jack Wilshere may miss out though, after injuring himself whilst on England duty, although he’s in full training.
In attack, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should be ably assisting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with one spot on the right up for grabs. That will be either Danny Welbeck’s or Alex Iwobi’s.
We do at least have Petr Cech’s 200th clean sheet out of the way, after waiting nearly four months. We will have to be up for a fight as Stoke will bombard on set plays and have the height to cause us problems.
The reverse fixture was another nightmare – a 1-0 win for Stoke where Jese scored his one and only goal in his loan spell thus far – and despite their lowly league placing, they will again pose a threat.
We need to rack up the wins and this game is a great opportunity to not only keep up our slim chances of breaking the top four monopoly, but also giving our match against CSKA Moscow the appropriate foundation.
A loss in this game would quickly see a return of the cloying negativity that has been the hallmark of this season. The only answer is winning, and we really should be getting maximum points in this game. Our home form alone is the biggest factor.
So, let’s see our boys put in a decent performance. #UTA
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang
Predicted Scoreline – 2-0 to The Arsenal